The Eclipse of Reason About Marriage

For quite some time, I have been discussing and debating the question of same-sex “marriage”.  I regularly defend the authentic conjugal definition of marriage that has been enshrined in our social and legal tradition — a life-long, exclusive union of one man and one women dedicated to their good and for the procreation and upbringing of children.

This debate has been going on for years now.  What continues to astonish me is how vapid are the arguments offered by those who would re-define marriage to leave gender and children out.  Examples of this weak attempt to overturn the immemorial definition of marriage can be found in this op-ed, or this one.

The arguments typically do not embody reasoned attempts to persuade through logic.  Instead, they are are emotionally-driven appeals to rectify hard cases, calls for “equality” without understanding that different things should be treated differently, demands for a laundry list of legal rights typical of special interest pleading, and, frequently, naked attempts to exclude religious people from the public debate.  They don’t engage questions of the effect of redefining marriage on the common good or future generations.  They ignore the incongruity of redefining marriage for everyone, to satisfy the interests of a statistically tiny number of people who want same-sex unions.  When all else fails, polling data is trotted out, as if a transitory snapshot of public opinion is infallible in its wisdom.  When even that fails, defenders of marriage are simply called “mean” (as I was, recently, in a college classroom).

In contrast, the arguments we offer in the defense of real marriage are multiple and philosophically sophisticated.  This argument relies on the nature of the human person and the truth and meaning of human sexuality.  It also relies on the lessons of common sense, experience, and social science about the best outcomes for adults and children.  The concern expressed consistently is the effect of redefining marriage on the public messages that the law sends to men and women, particularly about the importance of marriage for children and for society as a whole.  We can offer ready logical answers to the common objections to the conjugal definition of marriage, such as the false comparison to interracial marriage.

Our approach is to appeal to the obligation to make public policy for the common good, to pay attention to all consequences of law-making (especially the long-term and secondary effects), and not to make law based on the particular desires of small interest groups.

A perfect example of this argument can be found in this op-ed by Robert George, Ryan Anderson and Sherif Gergis, or Michael Hannon’s on-line essay.

In so many ways, this debate is coming to resemble the debate about abortion.  Science and logic (not to mention tradition) all establish the humanity of the unborn, but these don’t seem to matter to our courts and legislatures.  Likewise, in the ongoing debate about marriage, reason and the common good of adults and children — and future generations — continues to be brushed aside by emotion and special interest politics.

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11 Responses to “The Eclipse of Reason About Marriage”

  1. Joey says:

    Mr. Mechmann,

    “They don’t engage questions of the effect of redefining marriage on the common good or future generations. They ignore the incongruity of redefining marriage for everyone, to satisfy the interests of a statistically tiny number of people who want same-sex unions. When all else fails, polling data is trotted out, as if a transitory snapshot of public opinion is infallible in its wisdom”

    Unfortunately you are making a generalization here. I am gay and wish to engage in a conversation to better understand both sides. There are people out there who would not call you mean for no reason. It is mean however to deny the fact that many LGBT youth are not experiencing support from their Church communities or families, and that the main focus for the Church in this issue is to “protect traditional marriage”.

    The main argument I have is about the difference of gender and sex and the fact that the Church speaks the “Truth” about everything. Sex is the biological difference between men and women (physical differences). Gender is the type of behavior a man or woman should have, according to society, (namely masculinity and femininity). Who is able to define gender accordingly? Who in our society is more masculine or more feminine? Who’s to say that a man is acting like a woman or a woman like a man, without our basic “stereotyping?

    We ascribe particular traits and personalities to these categories, and gender differences are established. But gender shouldn’t matter at all in anything. Why should it matter if we are all people, regardless of how we act? Should people with certain genders be treated differently, of course not. So then why is this conversation focused primarily on gender, unless to confuse others or of people not understanding the situation? If a father stays at home with the kids while his wife goes out to work, does that make him any less of a man? No, because he is a man, through his biological difference to women. Both men and women should ideally have a “masculine and feminine gender” (because that is main way to define gender in society). Who’s to say that a man cannot be loving and compassionate and a woman cannot be more willful and strong. Gender doesn’t actually account for anything, because it can be anything. It’s just our society’s normative to see things as polar opposites, not at a myriad of things. Therefore, life naturally leaves gender out of the equation, because you cannot define a human being based only on their personality and how masculine or feminine they are.

    Then, if gender is not necessary, and the only difference between men and women is their biological differences, you are only saying marriage should be between a man and woman for their sexual difference. The main argument for this would be sexual compatibility. But what about the children? Do children need to be raised by a heterosexual couple in order to experience the biological difference of men and women. Not at all. Children need love, compassion, commitment, strength, etc., which are common to both men and women. So if two men or two women want to raise a child, they can have those behavioral attributes, which are necessary for a child to grow.

    I understand the Church’s position on marriage and it is fine to restrict those views within the Church. But when moved outside to limit the marriage of committed gay couples, it is infringing upon other people. I understand the counter to that, as the Church tries to hold onto the “best interest of the people”. By saying that the Church speaks the Truth on all issues because it is guided by the Holy Spirit also does not hold as reasonable statement. Mainly, because anyone can essentially claim that they know the truth and justify it with claiming that God told them that it is what he wants. And then there’s the history of the Church, how can the Church be wrong if it existed for 2000 + years. Not all things that are old are always correct. They might have had a way to hold onto their support for those years, but is it really absolutely correct because of that? Of course not. You also stated that same-sex marriages would cater to a very small minority in the country. If only a minority are benefiting, it shouldn’t matter, they are still people. Should LGBT teens not be supported by their families because they are a minority in this country? Would you rather see these people living together or trying to be committed to a marriage? You seem to be attacking other people’s arguments that are as ridiculously sounding as your own. I’m just simply pointing this out, no offense is meant by this.

    Gay families exist in this country. There are committed gay couples who are raising children. You insult it as an emotion. If you are calling love an emotion, then you really have no idea of what love is. These people truly care about each other. It’s not some simple statement of “I’m was born this way”. When I realized I was gay, I continued to try to understand what I was feeling. It helped me reflect and meditate on my life, and what I’m called to. I am constantly introspective of myself, my desires, and my life. This is not an attempt at conforming to my own desires, but of me conforming to what I am called to. And please don’t think that I have to pray harder or that my reasoning is wrong with being gay. I replied once before on here and you recommended Courage to me. If you met me in person, you would see that I truly reflect and think about alot of things. I try to understand myself and the world around me. Please try to understand that these are people’s lives you are talking about, not some political agenda or religious belief you are trying to defend.

  2. Bravo to the this latest response to advocates of same-sex marriage. SSM is an oxymoron
    politically, morally and religously bereft of any ratioinalization or logical defense. The social and medical implications(AIDS, HIV, SSD’s depressed population rates, immoral attitudes towards sexualty)are enormouse and are already affecting a disaffected American and indeed, Western youth. Never mind the idea that a true Catholic can in any capacity, condone abortion, euthanasia, contraception or Culture of Death practice-SSM is the cultural and biological antitthesis of a “normal” human society!! Victor C. Capelli

  3. Joey says:

    @Victor C. Capelli,

    I appreciate the lack of effort in reading my post, and your usage of poor arguments to support yourself. People like you are the ones who Mr. Mechmann refer to as “philosophically unsophisticated” by throwing random information without backing up anything. You make statements and do not justify them. Sad to see that you live in a bubble.

  4. Lauren says:

    @Joey, thank you for your intelligent and thoughtful comment.

    Mr. Mechmann, I am a lesbian who will be marrying my partner next year in Massachusetts. You say: “Likewise, in the ongoing debate about marriage, reason and the common good of adults and children — and future generations — continues to be brushed aside by emotion and special interest politics.”

    Three years ago, my father passed away very suddenly of a heart attack – a devastating moment for my brothers and my mother. As his wife, she was allowed to identify his body in the hospital and say one final goodbye. As a widow, she was able to benefit from social security, life insurance, and other payments which have kept her from being destitute. Similarly, as my father was a veteran, she has received veterans’ spouses compensation.

    Insisting that my partner and I are denied the same rights my mother had during a tragic time does not ensure the common good of adults. It certainly doesn’t ensure security in my relationship, nor does it in thousands of others. I fail to see how this is special interest politics, and rather a simple request for recognition and dignity.

    Thank you.

  5. Ed Mechmann says:

    Concerns about legal rights of a few people regarding property, taxation, end-of-life decision-making, etc., can be easily accomplished by legislation — as New York did several years ago, when it guaranteed hospital visitation rights for domestic partners, with a broad definition of that term, or which can be done by permitting people to designate another adult as the recipient of their legal benefits. This would not require the fundamental re-definition of the basic foundation of society by changing the meaning of marriage, which would negatively impact the common good of all.

  6. Joey says:

    Mr. Mechmann,

    You addressed legal concerns in the comment, but what about philosophical? Additionally, you never addressed Victor C. Capelli’s comment. And please explain just how expanding marriage would negatively impact the common good for all?

    Your post was meant to highlight philosophical arguments in the debate. However, your comment gives a “solution”. You’re not even addressing our points. How is that being open to a conversation at all?

  7. Ed Mechmann says:

    The philosophical and consequential arguments are best made by Robert George et al., in the article I linked to. For a more in-depth version of the argument, I would recommend their law review article or their upcoming book.

  8. Joey says:

    Did you even read my previous post? and why aren’t you addressing Victor C. Capelli’s post?

  9. Ed Mechmann says:

    Joey, I did in fact read your comment. The heart of the matter, to us, is definitional — “what is marriage?”

    You assume the whole argument away when you say “But gender shouldn’t matter at all in anything”. You then essentially argue that “marriage” can mean whatever you want it to mean. And, in fact, you’re right, in a way — if we rule out gender, then “marriage” can mean anything, or nothing. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

    The problem is, the idea that “gender shouldn’t matter” isn’t a premise for a conversation, it’s a question-begging value judgment, and one that we (and the entirety of history, not to mention evolutionary psychology and biology) reject as unfounded.

    Our position rests on the notion that sexual difference can’t be assumed away. The complementary (i.e., different, equal, and necessarily interdependent) nature of male and female sexuality is a constitutive element of what it is to be a human being. This is much better stated by Robbie George et al. in the articles I’ve cited to you, which I would encourage you to read and consider.

    In our view, sexual difference is inherent to the definition of marriage — without that, there is no orientation to children, no answer to the need for sexual union and completeness, and, in short, there isn’t anything that resembles “marriage”. Instead, there’s something different — “friends with benefits”, perhaps. That’s why we believe that conjugal (i.e., male/female) marriage must be treated differently in law than other relationships (e.g., same-sex partnerships). Different things should be treated differently.

  10. Joey says:

    I appreciate you addressing my response, although I wish you had sooner. You still have not addressed Victor C. Capelli’s response.

    I don’t assume anything away at all, and I am not closing the conversation at all by my notion. As you said “different things should be treated differently.” You are equating gender to sexual differences. They are not equal at all. That’s the point that I made when I said: “The main argument I have is about the difference of gender and sex and the fact that the Church speaks the “Truth” about everything. Sex is the biological difference between men and women (physical differences). Gender is the type of behavior a man or woman should have, according to society, (namely masculinity and femininity). Who is able to define gender accordingly? Who in our society is more masculine or more feminine? Who’s to say that a man is acting like a woman or a woman like a man, without our basic “stereotyping?” So, gender does not constitute sexual differences at all. It’s based on behavior, not biological differences.

    Additionally, I only managed to read parts of the article you cited (as I’ve been busy with engineering projects as the semester is ending). Another problem I have in both what you say and what the articles suggest is the assumption that only heterosexual unions resemble sexual union. Same-sex unions are able to fulfill a sexual union too, obviously in a different way. It’s not a mere “friends with benefits” situation. I don’t think people realize this at all. There is a clear connection between people, that many people just refuse to see. You’re basing all of this on pure logic, but not of experience or understanding. I truly believe this is the problem. When people get so caught up in defining things, the true meaning of a word (the actual experience that the word represents) becomes lost.

    On another note, the Church and its bloggers should become more supportive of LGBT youth and the bullying that persists in the educational system and in the Christian community. This does not entail sending people to Courage. I’m talking about a neutral-safe place for people to go, in which neither the left nor the right rule, but where people hear from different sides and choose how to live their lives. I think it’s completely ridiculous to focus on the marriage debate when there are so many teenagers struggling with parts of themselves and even killing themselves because they are ashamed of it.

  11. Ed Mechmann says:

    Sorry for being slow in responding — this annoying thing called work keeps getting in the way.

    My primary interest in the redefinition of marriage stems from the public meaning of marriage, and its significance to the public common good. What you’re saying about gender really doesn’t address this public dimension, but is primarily about the lived experience of private relationships. Even if I were to accept all that you say about the reality of same-sex relationships, the question remains — what is the public meaning and significance of marriage?

    The whole idea of “gender” reflected in your posts is that it’s just a bundle of attributes that are largely socially determined, and that can be revised according to the subjective desires of the individual. That’s an interesting point, and one that I partly agree with — certainly many sex roles are determined by the time and place in which one lives, and are merely customary.

    But in the debate over the legal redefinition of marriage I think it’s beside the point. The public meaning and definition of marriage that we hold to is not a mere social construct — we see it as inherent in the nature of male and female, something that has normative force, something that reflects universal truths that have been recognized by every society in history. That’s why I keep stressing “sexual difference”, which is, after all, a biological reality, independent of any social values attributed to it.

    The burden of proof in this debate is with those who would redefine marriage and replace it with something else. Assuming away sexual difference, and replacing it with a malleable notion of “gender”, fails to meet the burden of proof, because it assumes the conclusion.

    Again, George et al. make this argument in much more detail.

    As for Mr. Capelli’s comment, I don’t have the time or energy to reply to every comment posted on this blog. Frankly, I don’t know enough about the issues he raises (the impact of same-sex sexual behavior on individuals, and then indirectly on the public health) to intelligently comment. As I’ve said, for me, the public significance of redefining marriage — particularly the removal of the child-centered nature of marriage — is the key consequential point of departure for the debate.